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New Haven for Homeless to Be Oasis on Skid Row : $11.5-Million Facility Will Be Innovative

October 25, 1987|RUTH RYON | Times Staff Writer

5th and Wall:

Angelenos know it as the heart of Skid Row, an intersection of "The Pit," "Down on the Nickel," the toughest turf in town.

It's where "Hill Street Blues" was filmed until the TV show was discontinued.

It's where "Mom's Kitchen" dished up hot meals and a prayer in the basement of an old hotel before the building was torn down.

Now there is a vacant lot with a construction barricade where the hotel stood, on the northeast corner of 5th and Wall streets.

A crew has prepared the site and is expected to start work there in a week or two on an $11.5-million facility for the Los Angeles Mission, which has been operating since 1949 about a block away.

The Los Angeles Mission is now in a turn-of-the-century building at 443 S. Los Angeles St., deemed structurally unsafe, even before the Oct. 1 earthquake. The building suffered $85,000 in damages during the quake.

A telethon will be held today from 2 to 5 p.m. on KHJ-TV, Channel 9, to raise funds.

The money will help keep the old, 20,000-square-foot building operational and to build the new, 113,000-square-foot one. It is just one of several plans for mission expansions in Los Angeles but is the farthest along in planning, says its architect, T. Scott Mac Gillivray.

Mayor Tom Bradley has stated that he expects the new mission to be the largest and most cost-effective center for relief and rehabilitation in Los Angeles, which he claims has more homeless than any other city in the United States.

When the new building is completed, the mission will provide counseling, food, beds, a baggage check, a referral service, a mail room, medical treatment, shaves and showers, clothing, a day-room lobby, two courtyards, a rehabilitation program with apartments for 100 men and 30 women, half-way house apartments for graduates of the program, jobs--from cleaning the mission to operating the mission's computers, support for continuing education and vocational training, and exercise rooms.

It will have a running track and racquetball, ping-pong, billiards and weightlifting equipment. It will have recreational rooms with vending machines and microwave ovens.

Too cushy for Skid Row? No, says the Rev. Mark Holsinger, director of the mission. "The young guys, especially, need a way to use their energy."

Not Coddled

Mac Gillivray said, "The recreational areas will be only for rehab people, not transients, and (though the rehab people get room and board), they are are committed to working 40 hours a week for $5, so they're not being coddled.

"What do they do with their spare time? If they go back on the street where there are pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers and their old drinking buddies, they'll just get in trouble again. It's better to have a place to work up a sweat, have a soda pop and make some popcorn."

The modern-looking new building will also have skylights, terraces and rounded walls.

An architectural statement on Skid Row?

Mac Gillivray says no. "It was not done as a flourish. We wanted it to be first and foremost practical. If we made it square, people would think it was cheap, but the building will be economical."

Circular Chapel

It will be made of relatively inexpensive materials: concrete block and stucco with a steel frame. Gypsum wallboard, patterned vinyl tile flooring and industrial carpet will be used inside.

The new mission will occupy nearly the entire lot, but Mac Gillivray was able to incorporate some unusual wall angles for acoustical and security reasons. "From the contact office (where people check in at the the main entry), you'll be able to see both sides of the courtyard at once, the entire lobby and the back hallway," he explained.

He also designed the chapel in a circular shape, "because we wanted that shape for a spiritual feeling, and it also works well for seating."

Speaking of seating, there should be no lines of homeless people waiting outside to get in for meals. "We tried to solve that architecturally," Mac Gillivray said.

He and Holsinger visited new missions in Portland, Seattle, Denver, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C. and San Diego to find design solutions for such unique problems as the homeless lines, but there were few answers.

"A lot of people who dedicate their lives to helping the homeless end up just providing a bed for the night or a hot meal. My hat is off to them, but this mission is interested in tackling the whole person," Mac Gillivray said.

Graffiti Discouraged

The process toward improving a person's self-image should start, said Mac Gillivray, with eliminating the outside line. "We don't want the mission to be a scourge of the neighborhood," he said, "and we also feel that for humanitarian reasons, it's not right to make people stand in line or lie down on the sidewalk."

Instead, people waiting for a meal at the new building will climb steps to the courtyard, hidden by a block wall made of rough-hewn concrete in alternating patterns to discourage graffiti.

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